Saturday, October 24, 2015

Making Sense of Grade and Quality Designations of Essential Oils

There is a lot of misinformation about the "quality" of essential oils. The internet seems to provide as many definitions and explanations as it has websites on the topic. Unfortunately, most of this is just clever marketing designed to make you believe that "their" essential oils are the best, or purest, or highest quality on the market. 

Let's deal with the easy part first. An essential oil designated as "certified organic" means the plant from which the essential oil came was grown under certain conditions and standards, and, that these conditions were monitored and checked out by an independent third party. The United States and Canada have different respected bodies, but, they pretty much all meet the same criteria. Some examples of reputable designations are Ecocert and Oregon Tilth, as well as USDA Organic. There are others. These agencies monitor the activity of the growers and ensure that their standards are met. Getting these designation involves monitoring, and, consequently a hefty fee for the service provided.

Other terms that are used to describe the conditions under which the plants are grown include "wildcrafted", "unsprayed", and "cultivated without chemicals". In all fairness, some of these products are indeed of an organic nature, but, without the designation, you have no way to be sure that the organic standards are met. Getting the organic designation is expensive, and small growers, who are often the best kind, may not be able to pay the large fees required for official designation and stay competitive. Although these products are very attractive, you have to accept that the growers definition of organic and yours may be different. The oils from these plants are not regulated, and therefore, not able to be certified.

Now for the more complicated designations. You will hear various companies talk about their oils being "therapeutic grade", "pure" grade, "aromatherapeutic" grade, "perfume" grade, or designate their oils with numbers. Some of these terms are trademarked, and offered only by a certain supplier. But, there are NO unified definitions for any of these terms. They are a marketing tool only. To quote Steve Borden, a Compliance Officer for Essential Wholesale and Labs (an excellent supplier of many aromatherapy items in the United States):

 "I am not aware of any regulatory agency that defines, monitors, or enforces any such standards. Provided that there is no false advertising involved, a seller is just as free to market their products with these descriptions as consumers are to be attracted to them. So if you are buying a Lavender I, II or III you need to understand that this is strictly a marketing ploy by the supplier to sell a similar product at a potentially higher price.  There may be little to no difference in the chemical makeup or aroma of that oil.  Don’t be fooled by these terms, either an essential oil is pure unadulterated or it is adulterated.  It is either certified organic or it is not."

So, there you have it. Like so much else in life, purchasing essential oils is definitely a "buyers beware" kind of deal.